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West Hawaii Today

Above photo:  Terry Paulson returns a volley at the Family Support Hawaii Tennis Tournament Saturday, at the Holua Tennis Courts in Keauhou. Laura Shimabuku/West Hawaii Today

KEAUHOU — It’s been a fairly steady trend at Family Support Hawaii over the past few years — ever greater numbers of disadvantaged kids are drawing benefit from the programs, and ever fewer state dollars are coming in to fund the services.

So it was a relief for Catherine Abellera when the registrations finally began to arrive for this year’s “Serve It Forward” tennis tournament and silent auction, an annual event held for the second time on Saturday and today at the Holua Tennis and Pickleball Center in Keauhou.

The tournament had 144 players pitted in friendly rivalry, and the silent auction was stocked with items from 50 donors — everything from jewelry and art to airline miles and local cruises. All of it was meant to benefit children from birth through 3 with disabilities, children in foster care and homeless youth.

Scratch the surface and under the smiles of dozens of tennis enthusiasts, the issues at hand quickly became sober ones.

Abellera, the tournament chairwoman, heads up the FSH Early Intervention Programs. Her programs experienced a 20 percent cut in state funding this past year, even as demand for FSH services have roughly tripled over three years.

Early Intervention serves more than 100 children around three quarters of the island. In North Hawaii alone, Abellera has been accustomed to serving 14 to 15 children. This year, the programs are reaching 47, she said.

Ray Woffard, FSH’s executive director, said there are more needy kids, but the higher numbers are also due to increased outreach that has helped the community know the services are available.

An untold number of children suffering disabilities, poverty or neglect have not come forward.

“There are children falling through the cracks,” said Gabriella Cooper, president of the FSH board of directors. “We as a community need to step in. There’s no way an organization like ours — where funds are cut on a regular basis — could survive without the support of the community.”

Last year’s tournament — the first of its kind for FSH — brought in $10,000. This year promises to be on track with that, given a similar number of registrations and silent auction items.

The funding challenges at FSH are not deterring the folks there from planning for the future. They are working to gain funding to establish a certified autism diagnostic center staffed with a specially-trained clinical psychologist and speech therapists.

“Our vision is to have a place where children can be tested using the best practices,” Woffard said. “Nationwide, autism has become a crisis, but there are not standard units of measurement.”

Also much needed is a day center for the island’s increasing homeless youth population, Woffard said. The center would be staffed with a case worker and equipped with showers, computers and phones. Somewhere for youths to disconnect from the streets and reconnect with a possible future that is more positive.

At worst, “it would be a place where they could get out of the sun for a few hours,” he said.